It’s always a great feeling when you hear the first whistle blow for the beginning of football season.
The Gannon University Knights seemed to have caught those feelings and ran with them Saturday as they earned a 55-22 road victory over Southern Connecticut State.
It was Gannon’s sixth consecutive season-opening win, with the last four coming against Southern Connecticut State.
The win was led by returning redshirt junior quarterback Zach Phillips, who continuously capitalized on a struggling defense. Phillips put up 177 passing yards on 19 completions, which included two touchdowns, and he also ran for a 16-yard score late in the fourth quarter.
The Knights’ defense fed off the excitement from the dynamic offense early as they played with a high tempo with their first steps on the field.
The highlight from this drive, as well as the game, came from redshirt junior linebacker James Simms as he easily picked off a third-down pass and took it 48 yards to the house to put the Knights up 13-0 early.
On Labor Day, Simms would find that he was named PSAC Defensive Player of the Week. Sims proved to be a strong leader of the furious defense that allowed only 2.7 yards per rushing attempt in this game.
Simms earned the award by registering a game-leading 15 tackles and a fumble recovery to sit next to his pick-6.
The rushing game for the Knights did not slow down either as junior Marc Jones, who backed up the graduated Tyler Johnson last year, went off for a career-high rushing game that included 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Averaging 10.1 yards per carry, Jones did a remarkable job at getting the short and tough rushes as well as breaking loose for a few runs like the one he had in the third quarter for 66 yards.
As a team, Gannon outrushed the host squad 343-115 and finished with 520 total yards to Southern Connecticut State’s 319. As a result, the Knights were forced to punt just once on the day.
Gannon worked like a well-oiled machine, with all the many moving parts contributing to a high-scoring victory.
Tyler Palka led the receiving corps with 11 receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns from Phillips.
The defense received notable performances from many players, but several others stood out aside from Simms.
Sophomore Noah Harris-Lyles recorded five tackles on the defensive line, including 2.5 tackles for loss.
Linebackers Anthony Howard and Geremy Paige proved to be a couple of defensive menaces for SCS with Howard getting 15 total tackles and Paige recording 10 tackles along with picking off a pass and coming just shy of the touchdown on the return.
The Knights will look to keep this momentum going as they have their home opener at noon Saturday at McConnell Family Stadium against the Shippensburg Raiders, who are coming off a 41-7 victory over American International.
Gannon was among several schools receiving votes outside the Top 25 in the first American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II Coaches Poll of the regular season released Monday.